New York judges to start hearing child-immigrant cases
By Marisa Schultz
August 13, 2014 | 1:45am
WASHINGTON — Thousands of kids who crossed illegally into the United States will hit the jackpot Wednesday, when their expedited cases begin coming before New York City immigration judges — who are the most lenient in the country.
The first judge assigned to the so-called “surge docket” is Frank Loprest, an Obama administration pick who grants asylum in 88 percent of the cases before him. The national average is about 50 percent.
Only five other judges in the nation have a more generous asylum record and they are all Loprest’s New York City colleagues, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University.
In all, the immigration court in the city has granted nearly 80 percent of asylum seekers’ requests since 2009, compared to 40 percent in Los Angeles and 30 percent in Houston.
“They are very empathic,” Noemi Masliah, a New York immigration attorney, said of the city’s judges. “They listen carefully to the evidence. It’s as if they feel like they are saving a life when they grant cases.”
For immigrants seeking relief, their fate appears to hinge on one American adage: Location, location, location.
“Given the statistics, the chances of success for an applicant fearing persecution seem to be based on where in the country and before which judge she or he makes the claim,” Masliah added. “This is very disturbing.”
The court will be on the front lines of the migrant children crisis, with more than 63,000 children flooding across the Rio Grande since October. Once detained at the border, they are released to relatives in the United States and given a court date nearby.
“New York tends to be one of the destinations for most of these kids,” said Jojo Annobil, attorney in charge of the Immigration Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society, in explaining the surge docket in city.
Loprest will handle the surge docket at least for the first week, and other city judges may rotate later.
“A judge who has a good asylum grant rate is going to be much more amenable to these kids,” said Jason Abrams, another city immigration lawyer.
Experts say the reasons for the high rate of successful asylum applications in the city may be that there are more immigrants from asylum-favored countries, such as China, and better access to legal aid.
Almost all asylum seekers — 89 percent — are denied when they don’t have a lawyer.
Public Advocate Letitia James pleaded Tuesday for New York’s attorneys to come forward and help the expected influx of unaccompanied undocumented child migrants.